Iowa women's basketball: Piling up the points has been Hawkeyes' remedy as Big Ten play intensifies

Dargan Southard
Hawk Central

IOWA CITY, Ia. — As Lisa Bluder and Iowa women’s basketball peek down the road at several weeks of Big Ten action ahead, there must be some comfort in the rhythmic resumption of what at least looks like a non-pandemic season. Two to three games a week against familiar foes — with hopefully no unexpected pauses — is easier to digest than the hastily constructed non-conference scene college basketball slogged through to end 2020.

More so aiding Iowa’s excitement, though, is the Hawkeyes have another high-powered offense clicking at every level as the competition heightens. Just like last season, this Iowa attack is ready to slice through preseason league expectations that were modest at best.

As the Hawkeyes (7-1, 3-1 Big Ten Conference) ready for Wednesday’s home showdown against Minnesota (2-4, 1-3) — which kicks off a four-game, 13-day stretch for Bluder’s squad — Iowa feels its commanding scoring attack creates tough assignments for, well, really anyone.

“We like to play up-tempo. We like to get out and run. We like to take that first open shot. We’re shooting the ball extremely well,” Bluder said this week. “You look at our shooting numbers, and they are very, very good. But we also play at a fast rate too. It’s fun. We’re knocking down threes. And everybody’s getting involved. It’s not just one or two people either, which makes us so hard to guard.”

Moving and grooving offensively has always been Bluder’s choice of play, particularly during the Hawkeyes’ recent elite ascension. Buoyed by Megan Gustafson, Kathleen Doyle and others, the last three teams prior to this one accounted for three of the top four highest scoring seasons in program history. Iowa averaged 78.7 points per game in 2017-18, 78.4 in 2018-19 and 79.5 last year.  

As for these current Hawkeyes? They’re even zooming by those recent gaudy figures.

Yes, there is plenty of season to go. But through eight contests, Iowa’s 92.1 points per game ranks fourth nationally and would easily be the loftiest mark for any team during Bluder’s lengthy Iowa City tenure. The veteran Hawkeyes coach has never had a team average more than 80 points per game, let alone 90.

Additional offensive data is just as promising. Entering Tuesday, Iowa ranks top-25 in field-goal percentage (51.2, 5th), assists per game (19.6, 10th), free-throw percentage (79.2, 13th), treys per game (9.2, 18th) and three-point percentage (38.9, 21st). 

Iowa guard Caitlin Clark (22) makes a basket as Rutgers guard Diamond Johnson, left, defends during a NCAA Big Ten Conference women's basketball game, Thursday, Dec. 31, 2020, at Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City, Iowa.

The scoring success undoubtedly starts with Caitlin Clark, who Monday was named conference freshman of the week for a fifth time and is barreling toward becoming Iowa’s first Big Ten freshman of the year since 2006. The tenacious newcomer boasting one prep accolade after another has been as advertised since the opening tip.

Such potency has been the Hawkeyes’ most dominant storyline, which only accentuates Iowa’s offensive dominance considering it returned all-Big Ten selections Monika Czinano and McKenna Warnock. Those two have been just as reliable, averaging 19.4 and 15 points per game respectively.    

“The biggest thing is that we have so many weapons,” Clark said. “There’s not much you can do when we have four to five people in double figures every game. It’s not like you can bring a triple team onto me like they were able to do in high school. So I think that’s a huge thing. When we have so many people scoring in double figures — especially when McKenna is shooting the ball like she is right now and with Monika down in the post — it makes it really, really hard on the defenses. And then our bench too.

“We’re a hard matchup. And we’ll use that to our advantage moving forward.”

There should be plenty of advantages against Minnesota, which surrenders 81 points per game and only recently ended a nasty four-game skid where the Golden Gophers lost by an average of 24 points.

After back-to-back offensive clinics against Rutgers and Illinois, Iowa will try for 90-plus points in three straight Big Ten games — a feat achieved only one other time since Bluder took over the Hawkeyes.

Trending toward another top-25 ranking and NCAA Tournament berth, Iowa is again sidestepping dropoff expectations following key graduations. Piling up the points has been the productive remedy.  

“We’re in a really good stretch,” Warnock said.    

Dargan Southard covers Iowa and UNI athletics, recruiting and preps for the Des Moines Register, HawkCentral.com and the Iowa City Press-Citizen. Email him at msouthard@gannett.com or follow him on Twitter at @Dargan_Southard.